Category Archives: Radio history

Florence “Dot” Cheers Dawson

1923AustraliaXtalSetShown here in 1923 is 17-year-old Florence “Dot” Cheers of Brunswick, Victoria, Australia, listening to a crystal set accompanied by her young sister Jean. The set had been constructed by their brother Ronald.

Smoky and Dot Dawson, 1952. Wikipedia photo.

Florence went on to become a radio announcer known as “Aunty June” on station 3KZ in the 1930’s and 40’s.  She married Smoky Dawson in the 1940’s, and the two achieved fame in country music in both Australia and the United States.  The video below is a performance by Smoky Dawson.

Smoky Dawson died in 2008, and Dot died in 2010 at the age of 104.

The public-domain photograph, donated by Dr. Christina Cheers, is in the collection of Museums Victoria.

1947 Radio Parts Sales

1942OctRadioNewsCoverShown here as it appeared 70 years ago is the sales room of Concord Radio Corporation in Chicago. The picture appeared on the cover of the October 1947 issue of Radio News, which notes that complete stocks of radio parts, well displayed, were the secrets of the distributor’s success.

Taking a Break With the Radio, 1943


Shown here in 1943 is eleven-year-old Beverly Ann Grimm of Buffalo, New York, taking a break from sweeping to listen to the radio. Beverly was largely forced to take care of herself and her five younger brothers and sisters. Her  mother was widowed, and worked all week as a crane operator with Pratt and Letchworth.  The mother’s name isn’t shown on the photograph caption, but according to the 1940 census, she was Thelma Grimm, and in 1940 lived at 60 Newman Street, Lackawanna, New York.  According to the photo caption, Mrs. Grimm was 26 years old in 1943, but according to the census, she was 26 years old in 1940.

The photographer was Marjory Collins of the Farm Security Administration. The photo, taken here from Wikimedia, was digitized by Yale, and more information is available at this link.  In the photo below, Beverly is shown bringing home the groceries purchased from her mother’s list.

I’m not able to make out the brand of the radio, which makes identifying it difficult.  If anyone has any clues, please let me know!  You can also find more information about this family and some of the artifacts in the pictures at this link.


The Banana Plug Goes To War


The war effort of the United Nations depended on many minor miracles, and according to this ad in the October 12, 1942, issue of Life magazine, one of those minor miracles rolled off the assembly lines of the United-Carr Fastener Corporation of Cambridge, Mass.

That minor miracle was the banana plug, or as it was called here, the banana pin. The cause of war was calling Americans to every corner of the globe, and their communications depended on American radio equipment. And those sets contained banana plugs, lots of banana plugs. Hundred of thousands of banana plugs were in constant operation in planes, ships, and tanks, under all conditions of weather and battle. The banana plug was unseen and inconspicuous, but it insured the constant contact to keep the far-flung forces in touch with their commands.

RM2C Robert Melvey, W7HUX, 1924-1944

1942OctRadioNewsThe October 1947 issue of Radio News contains this report of a rare case of the FCC issuing a specially requested amateur callsign prior to the “vanity” callsign programs of later decades.

Ernest Melvey, formerly W7HVS, of 6416 Francis Avenue, Seattle, Washington, requested a waiver of the rule requiring calls to be assigned systematically.  Specifically, he requested the call sign of his son, U.S. Naval Reserve Radioman Second Class Robert Melvey, W7HUX, who had been killed in action, along with 132 other sailors, when the cruiser Nashville had been hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane on December 13, 1944.

USS Nashville after the kamikaze hit. Wikipedia photo.

The elder Melvey had made the request “in remembrance of the good times,” and the FCC was sympathetic to the father’s request to perpetuate his son’s call letters on the air.  The FCC granted the request, but “did not mean that it was relaxing its long adhered to policy against transfer of amateur call letters or requests for particular amateur calls.”

The younger Melvey is interred at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, Seattle.

USS Nashville (CL-43) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 4 August 1943.jpg

USS Nashville, 1943. Wikipedia photo.


1937 Remote Control Display

1937OctRadioRetailingEighty years ago,  Aeolian’s store in St. Louis (apparently a dealer in radios and pianos) managed to attract a big crowd to the sidewalk in front of their store window with this clever display, shown here in the October 1937 issue of Radio Retailing. The plate glass window contained four “buttons,” consisting of cards mounted inside the glass, each with the call letters of a radio station and the words “Place Hand Here to Tune.” Sure enough, when a visitor placed his or her hand on the glass, the console radio four feet away mysteriously tuned to the selected station, and the program came over a sound system piping the radio to the street. Over the course of three days, 5000 people placed their hands over the cards to tune in the radio. Many of them went into the store for a better look.

According to the magazine, the display was the brainchild of parts jobber Bob Ferree of Interstate Supply and Fred Pitzer of RCA. The cost of materials was $50, which the magazine proclaimed to be “cheap, when the timliness and effectiveness of the stunt is considered.”

The magazine carried the full schematic for the circuit, shown below. As most readers probably guessed, the circuit relied upon hand capacitance. Each foil pad was connected to an oscillator circuit, set so that the added hand capacitance would stop the oscillation. This triggered a relay, which in turn triggered a second latching relay which tuned the set’s remote control to the selected station.

Each of the cards had behind it 3.5 by 5 inch strips of tinfoil. Another card was glued to the back to conceal the foil. From each piece of foil ran a tiny 40-gauge enameled wire which ran to a relay unit hidden behind the set.  Each station required two tubes plus two relays, plus one rectifier tube to power the entire unit.


Raytheon TWR-9, 1967




According to this ad from the October 1967 issue of Popular Electronics, installing one of these babies above the kitchen spice rack would not only earn the little woman’s admiration, but would keep the household running like a well-oiled machine.

Shown is the Raytheon TWR-9, which was a 6-channel, 5-watt CB transceiver, complete with cordless microphone and “touch tap control.”  With the CB radio, “she can talk to you on the way home, and have you pick up those little essentials like TV dinners . . . or the laundry.”

But there was more that the set could do.  It included an intercom function, so as soon as she signed off, she could “threaten junior with disaster if his homework isn’t done before you arrive home.”

And it didn’t keep her tied down to the kitchen.  She would have even more admiration “when she learns that it’s simple to divert the output of the CB receiver section to a remote speaker at poolside so she can still hear your calls from the car even when she relaxes outside.”

A pristine example of this radio can be seen at this site.

1942 Homemade Battery Charger

1942OctPMbatterycharger1The plans for this battery charger appeared in Popular Mechanics 75 years ago this month, October 1942.

The project had a decidedly wartime angle: “Should it become necessary to store your car, this tungar battery charger will keep a 6-volt storage battery fully charged so that you can operate your auto radio indoors. This is only one of many timely civilian defense uses for an efficient and inexpensive battery charger.”

The only electronic part necessary to construct the charger was a GE tungar bulb. The “tungar” name for this type of rectifier came from the fact that it contained a tungsten filament and the bulb was filed with argon gas. The bulb specified by the project had a two-volt filament, and screwed into a standard lightbulb socket, with a separate lead running to the anode. The whole charger was mounted on a wooden board. The article specified that it should not be enclosed, in order to allow ventilation. Thus, the 110 volt terminals were left exposed.

1942OctPMbatterycharger2The transformer was also homemade. The core consisted of strips of stovepipe iron, carefully cut and shellacked together as shown here.  Wood from a cigar box was used as a form to construct the core. The windings went over a layer of electrical tape, with the secondary winding also containing a layer of “empire cloth, available from electric shops.” The iron laminates were clamped together with hardwood or bakelite, bolted together firmly to keep the transformer from humming. The instructions called for the cord to be placed in a “moderate oven” and baked until dry.

The windings in the article were made with wire from a burnt out transformer. The primary consisted of 605 turns, with a coat of shellac after each layer. The secondary had 85 turns to supply 15 volts to the rectifier, with another 11 turns to provide the 2 volts for the filament. Finally, a knife switch was connected to the battery, to be flipped one way to charge, and the other way to play the radio.


Hammarlund HQ-129X, Four-20, and Two-11: 1947


This typical 1947 ham is shown at the mike of her well equipped (apparently ‘phone only) station, consisting of all Hammarlund equipment.  According to the ad, her Four-20 transmitter and accompanying Four-11 modulator are giving her solid R9+ reports from China, Argentina, Hawaii, and Australia.  And she’s pulling them all in with her HQ-129-X receiver.

She wasn’t a QRO operator, however.  The Four-20’s final was the venerable 807 tube, and the rig ran about 20 watts.  And there’s no sign of a VFO, so she was crystal controlled on whatever frequency she used.  But the Hammarlund name and the YL voice were good for several S-units, and I bet she put a lot of DX in the log.  The ad appeared in the October 1947 issue of Radio News.

OSS Collecting Tourist Photos, 1942

1942Oct5Life1Seventy-five years ago today, the October 5, 1942, issue of Life magazine included this nondescript tourist photo as an example of something the government desperately needed.  Specifically, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, was requesting tourist photos from around the world for use in invasion planning.

1942Oct5Life2To illustrate the point, they provided this map of hypothetical Fitzhugh Island, the site of a powerful radio transmitter being used by the enemy.  To silence the radio station, an invasion was required.  The location of the radio station was clearly visible on the prewar map.  But many details necessary to mount the invasion were unknown.  In particular, it was not known whether the beach was suitable for landing the invading forces.

This is where prewar tourists got involved.  In a dusty photograph album somewhere in America, there probably existed photographs taken during a prewar vacation to Fitzhugh Island.  That photograph, shown above, needed to get into the hands of the OSS to confirm that the beach was suitable.

Many photographs would be useful for things like determining the composition of roads (and whether they would support a tank) and their width.  The photo shown below could be used to measure the width of the roadway, since the tourist’s height was known or could be readily estimated.  The image of the ship in the background also provided valuable clues as to the harbor’s suitability for invasion.


To get these photographs where they were needed, the OSS was asking for “all photgraphs (stills and movies) taken by tourists outside the U.S., in Europe, Asia, the Philippines, South Seas, Africa.  All types are useful, even family groups.”  To facilitate handling, the magazine asked those in possession of such photos to write for a questionaire (but to complete the questionaires before sending any photos).  The magazine provided the address of the OSS as P.O. Box 46, Station G, New York, N.Y.

After the hypothetical case of Fitzhugh Island, the magazine turned to an actual example of where such photos had been used. On February 27, 1942, British commandos under the command of  Lord Louis Mountbatten launched  Operation Biting, a successful raid against a Nazi RADAR at Bruneval, France, about twelve miles from Le Havre.

The BBC had previously broadcast a plea asking all people who had spent a holiday along the northern coast of France to send in any pictures they might have taken. Among the pictures that flooded in were the two shown below.


These  photos showed some critical details necessary for planning the raid.  The photo of fishermen on the left showed that there were cars on the beach, thus confirming that the sand would support mechanized equipment.  And the landscape on the right revealed a fence and the exact location of the road to the station.